Komati mother and child, Madras Presidency, 1909
|Kuladevi (female)||Vasavi Kanyaka Parameswari|
|Religions||Hinduism • Jainism|
|Region||South India (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka)|
The Komati is a trading community found primarily in southern and central India, that is currently organised as a caste. The members of the Komati caste are commonly engaged in banking, money lending and other business pursuits. The community consists of many sects who are followers of Hinduism, namely the Gaura or Gavara, the Thrivarnika and the Kalinga, along with the Jaina Komatis who are followers of Jainism.
The affinity of the word "Komati" to "Gomata" has led to speculation that the word is derived from Gomata (Gomateshwara), the name of a Jain deity. This theory is supported by scholars such as C. Dwarakanath Gupta, and Jaisetty Ramanaiah; B. S. L. Hanumantha Rao also mentions this as the most reasonable of the theories, noting that it is a "derivation of the word from gomata, the great Jaina saint, which implies that they were followers of Gomata cult or were originally Jains". Gupta theorises the Komatis were originally traders from Gauda in Bengal, who adopted Jainism and followed the cult of Gomata. They later gave up Jainism and embraced Vedic Hinduism. Hanumantha Rao noted that the merchant classes preferred Jainism for gaining social status and respectability, and the erstwhile Banias became Gomati or followers of the Gomata cult in medieval times.
An alternative etymology mentioned by Gupta derives the name of the caste from the name of a river. He states that the Komatis are said to have originally lived on the banks of Gomati, a local name for the Godavari river. Yet another theory states that the name of the community is derived from the Telugu phrase konu-ammu-atti ("persons engaged in the exchange of goods"). Colonial ethnographers Edgar Thurston and R. V. Russell derived "Komati" from the Sanskrit term "Gomathi," believed to have the meaning of possessor or keeper of cows or Ko-mati ("to be fox minded"), which references their business acumen. A origin story accepted by many in the community is mentioned in the Kanyaka Purana which states that Shiva gave them the name Go-mati ("cow-minded").
There is epigraphic evidence that the term Komati was in use by the 11th century CE. The Komati merchants were associated with the town of Penugonda in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.
Inscriptions from the Godavari, Krishna and Guntor districts from 11th century refer to the merchants referred to as the "Lords of Penugonda". The wealthier sections of the Komatis were addressed as Setti, Chetti or Chettiyar, all derived from the Sanskrit term Sreshthi. Their trade associations bore the name nagaram. They also participated in long-distance trade networks called pekkandru (literally "the many"). During the times of the Vijayanagara Empire, they moved to various parts of South India to further their businesses.
After the arrival of European trading companies, the Komati merchants were among the local traders that partnered with them. The British referred to them as "Committys" and often used the term generically for all merchants on the Coromandel coast. Among the "Committys" that the British dealt with were the bulk sellers of cloth and other export commodities, money lenders and money changers, and the individual shop-keepers. The second Chief Merchant of the British East India Company in Madras was a Komati called Kasi Viranna, appointed in 1669. There was fierce competition in George Town between the Tamil-speaking Beeri merchants, who formed the 'left-hand' caste division and the Komati and Balija merchants, who were referred to as the 'right-hand' caste division. The competition between the divisions gave rise to riots and disputes in 1652 and 1707. The British were able to settle the disputes between left-hand and right-hand caste divisions amicably by resettling members to designated areas in George Town which is a small neighbourhood in the city of Chennai.
Vasavi Mata is considered the Kuladevata of Komatis. Kanyaki Purana — a late medieval sacred text in Telugu — is their key religious text. Records are available for a Kanyaka Parameswari temple built on a garden owned by the Komati community in George Town, Madras in the early 18th century.
Komatis regard themselves as a `twice-born' caste, meaning that they are allowed to wear a sacred thread following an initiation ceremony (the upanayana). This status was contested by Niyogi Brahmins in Masulipatnam in the early 19th century in the Imperial British courts at considerable expense. The 102 gotras of the Komati community do not correspond with gotras that were deemed appropriate for Vaishyas because the gotras are not rishi gotras.
Arya Vaishya (Arya Vysya) is a subset of the Komati caste. Orthodox Arya Vaishyas follow rituals prescribed in the Vasavi Puranam, a religious text written in the late Middle Ages.
The community were formerly known as Komati Chettiars but now prefer to be referred to as Arya Vaishya.
Patronage by Nellore Cholas
The Nellore Choda kings in the 13th century are said to have marshalled the varnashrama dharma in the Telugu country. The court poet and minister Tikkana recognised Komatis as being equivalent to Vaishya in his Andhra Mahabharatam.
The Mackenzie manuscripts provide a record of a copper plate grant of guru Bhaskaracharya (16th century CE), given by the 102 gotras which formed the Gavara grouping. According to the Vasavi Purana, the Vaisyas of Penugonda and 17 other towns belonged to a group of Vaisyas of 714 gotras. However, the 102 gotras of Gavaras separated out, and formed the Gavara Komati community.
The claim to Vaishya status was contested, legally and otherwise, during the 18th and early 19th centuries, when Niyogi Brahmins opposed attempts by Vaidiki Bramhins to adopt the orthodox Vaishya rituals. Evidence of violent encounters between the powerful Mandri Mahanad alliance, controlled by the Niyogis, and the Vaidiki community were recorded between 1780-1820 in Masulipatnam, after which the matter was sent up to a civil court. The Vaidika (Vedic) Brahmin community supported the practices of the Komatis and, after much deliberation, the court allowed the practices to continue.
- B. S. L. Hanumantha Rao (1995). Social Mobility in Medieval Andhra. Telugu University. p. 176.
No satisfactory origin and meaning of the word Komati could so far be traced.
- Syed Siraj ul Hassan (1920). The Castes and Tribes of H.E.H. the Nizam's Dominions. Asian Educational Services. p. 340. ISBN 978-81-206-0488-9.
The etymology of the word ' Komti ' is uncertain and throws no light upon the origin of the caste.
- Journal of the Andhra Historical Research Society. Andhra Historical Research Society. 1963. p. 212.
While attempting to explain its origin, many stories have been invented, but none of them is satisfactory.
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